New industrial relations legislation was introduced yesterday by the Federal Government to a mixed reception by the road transport industry.
The Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023 will significantly amend the Fair Work Act 2009.
Under the bill, which Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Tony Burke, introduced into Parliament, the Fair Work Commission will have the power to set minimum standards for the road transport industry.
The legislation gives discretionary powers to the Fair Work Commission on what those minimum standards will cover, such as fair payment terms.
It must be satisfied that its orders won’t adversely impact the viability or competitiveness of road transport contractor drivers.
A road transport expert panel will be established within the Fair Work Commission to hear applications for standards, guided by advice from a road transport industry advisory group.
Before making a road transport minimum standards order, the Fair Work Commission must ensure there has been genuine engagement with the parties to be covered and consultation with the road transport advisory group and its subcommittees has taken place.
The order must take into account the commercial realities of the industry and not adversely affect the viability and competitiveness of owner-drivers.
The National Road Transport Association is examining the details of how the panel would operate.
CEO Warren Clark said NatRoad generally supported measures that ensure the safe performance of work, but believes they must be evidence-based and able to be practically implemented in the workplace.
“It is in everyone’s interest that the industry remains viable, productive and safe and we have been pushing that point to the Government,” said Clark.
“We only saw the legislation after it was tabled today and need to examine it in its entirety.
“NatRoad is committed to understanding the consequences of the legislation and the formation of an expert committee to advise the Fair Work Commission on minimum standards.”
Clark, however, said NatRoad remained opposed to any return to the flawed and unworkable Road Safety and Remuneration Tribunal of the past.
“NatRoad is in favour of eliminating unfair contracts and needs to know how the new approach will sit with the Treasury Laws Amendment (More Competition, Better Prices) Bill 2022 (Cth) that takes effect in November,” he said.
The Chair of the Australian Trucking Association, David Smith, welcomed the Government’s decision to restrict the commission from issuing orders about road transport issues covered by the Heavy Vehicle National Law or other laws.
“We argued that the commission’s powers needed to be separated from safety regulation, because otherwise the industry would end up with conflicting safety requirements,” he said.
Smith said the bill included extensive consultation provisions, including a requirement that road transport minimum standards orders be published for a period of time before they come into force.
The period set out in the bill is 24 months.
“As introduced, the bill would also enable the Government to make regulations for road transport orders to be internally reviewed,” he said.
Smith said the Government had consulted with the industry on the road transport provisions.
“During the consultation process, Minister Burke met our representatives in person on three separate occasions. The ATA also worked closely with Minister Burke’s office and his department.
“Our policy staff were able to review and comment on the in-confidence exposure draft legislation. It is evident that most of the checks and balances ATA asked for have been included in the bill.
“There are still issues to be resolved with the bill and the regulations that will underpin the commission’s extended role. We look forward to making a submission to the Senate inquiry into the bill and to working with the Government on Senate amendments and the regulations,” Smith said.
In his capacity as Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation National Secretary and VTA CEO, Peter Anderson said the legislation, when passed, will unlock great potential within the industry and truly professionalise how it operates.
“Having Minimum Standards in place ensures equality of competition and greater efficiency of the road transport industry amid increasing demands on current processes and operations,” he said in a statement.
“By establishing and maintaining enforceable standards through this legislation, the road transport industry in Australia aims to ensure the well-being of its workers, promote fairness, and safeguard its critical role in Australia’s economic landscape.”